by Abu Aaliyah
Two years ago my father’s health deteriorated rapidly. After being hospitalized for a brain stroke, he was informed that he required multiple surgeries to address his failing kidneys and the blockages of blood vessels near his heart.
I joked with him when the doctor first showed us the blocked blood vessels.
“Abbu, this one has biryani in it. And I see some butter chicken in this one.”
As we momentarily laughed away some of the stress, I knew he recognized the honest and difficult-to-swallow admonition beneath my humour. A lack of exercise and poor diet had caught up to him. He had neglected his health and was paying a high price for it now.
Some of things you might find in a Pakistani fridge in one evening. Cheese, Biryani,
and Sheer Qorma… the struggle is real!
It was witnessing his pain that made me examine my own lifestyle choices. Like my father, I too have been a voluntary “victim” of fiery curries and mouth-watering delicacies. Believe me. It is tough imagining a life devoid of spices and sweets. At the time I knew that I couldn’t give up the lifestyle immediately. It had been part of my life too long. It was engrained in me, part of my DNA.
So the poor decisions continued. Not a single thing changed. Except that the thoughts of my father’s painful health experience lingered in my mind.
And then I learnt I was going to be a father.
This news made me reflect on whether I wanted my child to experience with me what I had experienced with my father. This brutal reality succumbed me towards seeking advice from those who had mastered making tough decisions in their lives.
Need to make at least one decision now followed by an action
In his classic bestseller, “Awakening the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical, and Financial Destiny”, esteemed life coach Anthony Robbins, breaks down the concept of decision-making. We are all making decisions, he says. However, we never consciously think about it. Think of the last time you actually said to yourself, “Today, I will decide to get up from bed and brush my teeth” or “Today, I will decide to go the gym”. The act of decision-making has more to do with how we feel in the moment. As Anthony writes, “There is one and only one thing that guides action – your decision”.
As I went through the book, I learnt that I needed to consciously commit to living my life to the highest level. In the context of my health, this meant aiming for the healthiest lifestyle that I could achieve. Yet by trying and failing numerous times before, I knew that I could never make a decision like “I’ll eat completely healthy starting today”. This is because deciding to eat healthy was like the peak of a mountain for me; a place I could never get to immediately.
However, following Anthony’s advice, I did two things. First, I thought of what I could focus on in this present moment. Second, I wondered what action I could follow-up this day once I decided what to focus on in the present moment. I had tried eating and living a healthy lifestyle before. But what I think most people don’t understand is that that how tremendous of a goal it is to accomplish for many people if you have been on the opposite end of the spectrum your whole life. It’s like trying to get to the next floor with no stairs or elevators to take you there.
Think about what a goal like eating and living a healthy lifestyle is actually comprised of. It’s made up of many smaller decisions that need to be taken. Just like if you were to climb the stairs to the next floor, you would have to pace yourself, step by step. Similarly, to change your lifestyle requires taking small steps now.
Many people fail to understand this concept. It’s easy to look at someone living an unhealthy lifestyle and judge them. It’s easy to say, “Wow, that guy or girl is just not motivated”. But the reality is that we take motivation for granted. I have seen this in my own experience working with individuals with mental illnesses; clients who are “just not motivated” to brush their teeth or even take a shower. These are activities of daily living that those of us who are blessed with health take granted for. But we don’t see the smaller decisions, smaller motivations that go into each step.
An act like deciding to take a shower in the morning is such a complex decision. It involves making the intention to shower. Then deciding to get out of bed. Deciding to go to the washroom. Deciding to take off clothes. Opening the tap, lathering ourselves with soap, etc. All of a sudden a “menial” task like showering seems overwhelming. Yet many of us are able to do it because we were able to master the smaller decisions.
Just like taking a shower is a difficult step for many of my clients, going to the gym is difficult for others. Going to the gym involves deciding to change clothes, driving/walking to the gym, running the treadmill, lifting weights (which can be further broken down into numerous exercises and reps), showering, changing clothes. All of a sudden going to the gym is not just about going to the gym. It’s a series of small yet significant decisions that carry much psychological weight. It was this realization that made me work on changing my eating habits over the past couple of years.
Next time you buy coffee. See if you can commit yourself to having it sugarless or less
sugars then you take now.
Here’s the list of small yet significant decisions I’ve been able to commit to and add to my decision-pyramid:
- Never get sugar in tea either at coffee shop or at home
- Never buy carbs at Tim Hortons apart from coffee
- Stopped eating lunch and dinner outside when I am alone
- Started incorporating apples in my diet
- Incorporated soccer on Friday nights
- Bought a bike to bike at work when I see clients in the community
- Never buying any chocolates/sweets from outside
- Drink a cup of green tea every day
- No pizza (or rarely during extended family gatherings)
These decisions have stuck with me. They were the ones I could commit to without feeling overwhelmed at the time. However, slowly and surely the list grew. I didn’t belabour myself into thinking/over-thinking things. I just chose something I could do and decided to commit to it.
I have no doubt that the aforementioned list of decisions has impacted my health positively. At the very least, they have probably boosted my lifespan insha’Allah.
3 hours of Indoor soccer on Friday nights gets the blood flow
Right now, the struggle is completely giving up sweets. My family including myself have an awful sweet tooth. Although I don’t purchase sweets when I am outside the house, it’s tough when people bring over sweets to our house, especially in the Pakistani culture. Self-control and discipline is a real challenge then.
But the focus is on what I call “Building a list of ‘at least’”. This means keeping in check with reality and in gratitude during your moments of weakness. This is done by saying to yourself “At least I didn’t buy sweets outside”. Or “At least I didn’t add sugar in my coffee today”. Or “At least, I was able to walk 10, 000 steps today”. Being very hard on yourself or self-critical can lead to giving up on even the small decisions and actions you are capable of doing. It can lead to the “Why even bother mentality?”. Instead, we should keep making small decisions. Keep working those decision-making muscles. Keep making decisions and stay committed to the manageable, slowly pushing to add more layers. Also don’t try to tip the scale all at once. Keep building on the “at leasts” so you can finally get to say “at last”. (Click to tweet)
What decisions have you committed to awaken your giant? What are you struggling with at the moment? Let me know below.